Newly released text messages between Sen. Mike Lee and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows show Lee was advising and assisting former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The messages also reveal Lee was aware of a legally dubious strategy to have then-Vice President Mike Pence throw out Electoral College votes much earlier than he had claimed.
CNN published almost 100 text messages from Lee and Texas Rep. Chip Roy to Meadows in the aftermath of Trump’s 2020 election loss. The texts trace how Lee went from being a fierce advocate for Trump’s efforts to warning the White House that the scheme could backfire. Lee eventually announced he was opposed to a plan to have Congress object to the Electoral College results in some battleground states, but the texts reveal that only came after Lee worked for months to assist Trump’s efforts.
Lee’s efforts to assist Trump began Nov. 7, the day Democrat Joe Biden was declared the winner. He texted Meadows a statement signed by the leaders of several prominent conservative groups urging Trump to “exhaust every legal and constitutional remedy” in challenging the results.
“Use it however you deem appropriate,” Lee wrote. “And if it’s helpful to you for you to leak it, feel free to do so.”
Lee also pressed Meadows to help lawyer Sidney Powell gain access to Trump. Powell alleged a secret cabal, including George Soros, the late Hugo Chávez, the CIA and thousands of election officials, conspired to steal votes from Trump in 2020.
“Sydney (sic) Powell is saying she needs to get in to see the president, but she’s being kept away from him. Apparently she has a strategy to keep things alive and put several states back in play. Can you help her get in?” Lee wrote to Meadows on Nov. 7.
Two days later, Lee again reached out to Meadows on behalf of Powell.
“Sidney told us the campaign lawyer who do not know are not focused on this and are obstructing progress. I have no way of verifying or refuting that on my own, but I’ve found her to be a straight shooter,” Lee wrote.
Powell’s conspiracy claims resulted in her being sued for defamation by Dominion Voting Systems and Smartmatic. Powell is facing multiple disciplinary actions, including disbarment, in several states for her actions following the 2020 election.
On Nov. 19, Lee realizes his backing of Powell may have been a mistake following a disastrous news conference where she detailed bizarre claims about a global communist plot to rig the election against Trump.
(Jacquelyn Martin | AP) Sidney Powell, right, speaks next to former Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, as members of President Donald Trump’s legal team, during a news conference at the Republican National Committee headquarters on Nov. 19, 2020, in Washington.
“I’m worried about the Powell press conference,” Lee wrote in the first in a series of text messages. “Unless Powell can back up everything she said, which I kind of doubt she can.”
Over the next three days, Lee reached out to Meadows several times, asking for marching orders.
“Please give me something to work with. I just need to know what I should be saying,” Lee wrote on Nov. 19.
“Please tell me what I should be saying,” Lee asked the next day.
On Nov. 23, Lee first brings up lawyer John Eastman, suggesting some irregularities in several states and proposing an audit.
“Eastman has some really interesting research on this. The good news is is (sic) that Eastman is proposing an approach that unlike what Sidney Powell has propose (sic) could be examined very quickly,” Lee said.
Eastman was behind a scheme to subvert the election results by having a handful of states carried by Biden submit alternate slates of electors. Competing slates would allow the Vice President to reject the results from those states, possibly throwing the election to the House of Representatives to keep Trump in the White House.
Lee claimed he first learned of the Eastman plan on Jan. 2, when he received a copy of a confidential memo from the White House. He told authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa he was “surprised” by the plan and made “phone call after phone call” to see if any states were ready to certify alternate electors but found none.
In reality, Lee was aware of the gambit nearly a month before he claimed.
On Dec. 8, Lee texted Meadows, “If a very small handful of states were to have their legislatures appoint alternative slates of delegates, there could be a plan,” Lee wrote.
“I am working on that as of yesterday,” Meadows replied.
(Patrick Semansky | AP) Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Oct. 30, 2020.
Eastman invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Eastman was asked about his communications with Lee but also pleaded the Fifth.
On Dec. 16, Lee asked Meadows if they wanted any senators to object to the certification of electoral votes, which was part of the Eastman plan to throw out the results. But Lee appeared to be cooling on the plan, realizing such a move may not be legal.
“Also, if you want senators to object, we need to hear from you on that ideally getting some guidance on what arguments to raise,” Lee wrote.
“I think we’re now passed the point where we can expect anyone will do it without some direction and a strong evidentiary argument,” Lee added.
The next available message to Meadows came on Jan. 3, when he warned of the efforts by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and others to object to the election results.
“I have grave concerns with the way my friend Ted is going about this effort,” Lee wrote. “This will not inure to the benefit of the president.”
But, Lee was still hoping that some states would certify alternate slates of electors, making objecting to the results much easier.
“Everything changes, of course, if the swing states submit competing slates of electors pursuant to state law,” Lee said.
Lee warns Meadows that the effort to have Congress give the win to Trump could backfire on the president.
“I know only this will end badly for the president unless we have the Constitution on our side. And unless these states submit new slates of Trump electors pursuant to state law, we do not,” Lee wrote.
The next day, Trump took a public shot at Lee during a rally in Georgia after Lee announced he did not support objecting to the election results.
“Mike Lee is here, but I’m a little angry at him,” Trump said.
Lee was not happy about being publicly called out by the president and vented to Meadows.
“I’ve been spending 14 hours a day for the last week trying to unravel this for him. To have him take a shot at me like that in such a public setting without even asking me about it is pretty discouraging,” Lee said.
Lee explained he had been calling legislators in several states trying to develop a way to defend Congress throwing out results in favor of Trump. In one text, Lee suggested he was trying to convince those state lawmakers to manufacture a pretext for Congress to act.
“We need something from state legislatures to make this legitimate and to have any hope of winning. Even if they can’t convene, it might be enough if a majority of them are willing to sign a statement indicating how they would vote,” Lee wrote.
(Kevin Dietsch | Pool) Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, center, arrives at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021.
Ultimately, Lee did not join other Republicans in objecting to the results.
The Tribune has reached out to Sen. Lee’s office for comment.
Lee is facing Republicans Becky Edwards and Ally Isom in a June primary election as he seeks a third term in Congress.
In a statement to The Tribune, Edwards ripped Lee for his involvement in the scheme to overturn the election results.
“Sen. Mike Lee researched overturning a lawful, democratic election for partisan and political gain. The moment Lee realized the gravity of Trump’s attempts to undermine the 2020 election, he should have stopped researching the legality of such actions and stopped pressuring local legislators,” Edwards’ campaign said in a text message.
“Lee has an obligation to protect and defend our Constitution and democratic process, as he swore to do when he took office. Instead, he allowed the situation to continue and enabled those seeking to keep themselves in power, no matter the consequences,” Edwards added.
In a statement, Isom said the text messages from Lee have wrecked his credibility.
“When a sitting US senator asks what he should say, he is freely admitting he is more concerned with playing DC games — with the politics of politics — rather than the people of Utah. Utah wants someone to fight for our state — someone who refuses to be just another chess piece the Washington, DC, apparatus can push around,” Isom said.
Independent U.S. Senate candidate Evan McMullin also jumped on Lee’s text messages, suggesting Lee tried to obscure his involvement in the election scheme.
“Why did Sen. Mike lee advise spurious legal efforts to overturn the 2020 election? And why did he hide those plans in the days leading up to Jan. 6?” McMullin said on Twitter, connecting his post to a fundraising appeal.
Democratic candidate Kael Weston chimed in, saying Lee was acting more like Trump’s lawyer instead of representing Utah.
“Instead of plotting with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to further divide our nation & undermine our democracy, Lee should have been working on behalf of Utahns who pay his salary,” Weston tweeted.
Correction: 10:51 a.m. April 15: This article has been updated with the correct spelling of Sidney Powell.